NGAs School and trust governance professionals survey

Of interest to those working in or with school governing bodies and academy trust boards

In June, the National Governance Association (NGA) released its report of research into the qualifications, pay and conditions of governance professionals in maintained schools and academy trusts. With the governance landscape around schools and academy trusts growing more complex and the regulatory framework increasingly more demanding, the work of the clerk or governance professional has grown. Unfortunately, the recognition of the role by charity trustees and school governors does not appear to have kept pace. This may contribute to what are deemed to be low levels of pay and conditions for clerks and governance professionals working in schools and academy trusts.

The NGA sought to quantify the issue via a survey of those performing the clerk or governance professional role in schools and academy trusts. Their 2021 survey aimed to:

  • establish a more accurate picture of the career landscape for clerks and other governance professionals as it stands;
  • provide important context to ongoing debates surrounding the evolution of governance professional roles; and
  • identify opportunities and potential solutions to support practitioners and develop the profession.

The survey received 1,272 completed responses, of which two-thirds were clerks serving maintained school governing bodies and academy committees, and a third were serving in ‘a range of other governance professional roles’.

The key survey headlines of interest to members include the following:

The survey responses suggest strong support for the term ‘governance professional’ as a collective description or umbrella term for all roles within the profession (70%). In recent years there has been a keen discussion about the terminology used to refer to the person undertaking the governance function within maintained schools and academy trusts. Traditionally, in maintained schools, governing bodies have been supported by clerks. As the academy trust sector has evolved and become more complex there has been a campaign to recognise the added responsibilities of the board and the support it requires by moving away from the term ‘clerk’ and adopting terminology like ‘governance professional’ or ‘company secretary’. The Institute strongly supports this development.

The use of appraisals as a tool to identify development opportunities and to progress a career is generally seen as essential. The NGA survey indicates that most respondents undertaking the governance function had annual appraisals within their schools or academy trusts (61%). However, it is interesting that 39% do not. There is obviously work to do with the chairs of boards and governing bodies to introduce regular appraisals of the governance professional if they in turn are to deliver their best for governors and trustees.

59% of respondents stated their support for a minimum qualification requirement which would improve the quality of clerking in the sector. It would have been interesting to ascertain whether chairs and headteachers/CEOs were in agreement with the sentiment, as the people who work most closely with the governance professional are likely to have a strong influence on the quality of the support provided to the board.

In contrast to that finding, only 5% of respondents were required to have a formal clerking or governance qualification upon appointment. This also reflects a broader theme amongst respondents questioning the benefits of undertaking additional formal development. A quarter saw scope for progression in their roles (26%) but many more respondents questioned the benefits of undertaking a formal qualification to support career progression as such activities are generally not funded by the school or academy trust or result in a pay increase (11% of respondents reported a pay increase after completing a qualification).

Overall, the report provides an interesting snapshot of the experiences of those performing the governance professional or clerk role in schools and academy trusts, their background, qualifications, status and pay.  It shows there is still more work to be done to elevate the position to a standing that is more valued, understood and respected. The report reinforces the importance of the Institute working with others to:

  • produce a more convincing narrative for boards to fully buy-in to the need for a suitably qualified and experienced governance professional to help support them in their work and the wider organisation in achieving its aims;
  • help move discussions about the role of the clerk and governance professionals within schools and academy trusts away from administrative arrangement to the broader added value they bring as recognised in the Kakabadse report (2014);
  • educate those employing governance professionals of the benefits of having a qualified and experienced governance professional as part of their senior management team; and
  • remind boards and governing bodies that good governance is not merely a compliance function but a key business enabler that can add value to the organisations’ ability to deliver their charitable and/or educational purposes.

The Institute is currently working with the Department for Education, the NGA and other interested parties on some of these issues and there is hope to be drawn from the experiences of governance professionals in other sectors where their recognition and standing was not  initially appreciated, but as the sector developed so did the role and the profession.

The report can be found here.

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